MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — More than 100,000 bees vanished — stolen in the dead of night.
Hive rustlers are hitting Middle Tennessee stealing this valuable livestock. Yes, the USDA considers bees livestock.
Such thefts are on the rise. The line of beehives was apparently a tempting target for thieves on a property just off Veteran's Parkway in Rutherford County.
"All the hives are gone and all that's left is the foundation of the hives — the blocks," said Tom Hartley. He's been beekeeping for years learning the craft from his father.
Hartley is now the second reported victim of stolen beehives in the county in just the past month.
"That's a huge loss to lose five full hives for any hobbyist like you or me," Hartley said.
A team of thieves with a truck had to hit overnight.
"If you notice there are empty tape rolls here," pointed out Hartley.
Duct tape was used to seal the hives and keep the bees in for transport.
"The fact is there are probably about 15 to 20,000 bees in each hive, you have to know what you are doing," Hartley said.
Each mature hive weighed several hundred pounds — full of honey that Hartley harvests and sells.
Natural honey can go for between $10 and $20 a pound. Now he's left with just a few young hives and a lot of work to replace the ones he's lost.
"It just tells me there must be some desperate people out there to go to all this trouble to steal a beehive," Hartley said.
Beehive thefts are on the rise nationally, as more bees disappear and their value increases.
State investigators believe the thieves are likely beekeepers themselves looking to increase their own hive count for pollinating crops and producing honey.
Both state and local investigators are on the case.
It's estimated that the value of Hartley's stolen hives is about $1,500 each.
Those responsible committed a felony and could face jail time if caught.